Exclusive: Department of Transportation warns that trucker convoys have potential to disrupt national highway system

·6 min read

The Department of Transportation warned that truck convoy protests planned across the United States could disrupt the national highway system and other critical transportation infrastructure, according to a security advisory note issued Friday and obtained by Yahoo News.

The protests that have shut down Canadian cities and affected trade and travel into the U.S. could bring disruption to U.S. highways and other travel veins, according to the Federal Highway Administration alert to federal, state and local government agencies.

People block highway 75 with heavy trucks and farm equipment
People block access to the Canada-United States border crossing at Emerson, Manitoba, on Thursday. (John Woods/Canadian Press via AP)

The DOT agencies charged with overseeing the country’s transportation infrastructure “have been made aware of an increase in calls for a convoy of truck drivers to block the National Highway System (NHS) and other arterial routes within the United States in general protest of mask and vaccine mandates,” the alert states. “Specific mentions of cities include but are not limited to Los Angeles — coinciding with the Super Bowl on 13 Feb — and Washington, D.C. — potentially coinciding with the State of the Union address projected for 1 March.”

The alert lists two main groups behind the protests and provides links to a dozen social media accounts being tracked in connection with the planned protests across the U.S. Still, the DOT says there are many remaining intelligence and information gaps impeding the corroboration of what is known about the emerging protest plans.

The DOT did not immediately return Yahoo News’ request for comment.

In addition to the DOT bulletin, Yahoo News obtained a Customs and Border Protection intelligence alert dated Feb. 10. “Multiple ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests continue to impact U.S. Ports of Entry (POEs) along the Northern Border with calls for additional protests in the coming days,” the CBP alert states.

In addition to the ports of entry already impacted by the ongoing protests in Canada, the CBP alert states that “efforts appear underway to expand the protests to other POEs as well as the interior United States.” Specifically, the CBP alert points to planned demonstrations that will reportedly take place “between 12-13 February on the Niagara Peace Bridge between Buffalo, NY, and Fort Erie, Canada.” The Feb. 10 alert notes that CBP is monitoring online chatter related to plans to “interfere with the Super Bowl” in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Police officers patrol on foot as a protest against COVID restrictions continues
Police officers patrol on foot as a protest against COVID restrictions continues in Ottawa, Canada. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press via AP)

The CBP alert details the impact on ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border, where travel and trade has been partly shut down, diverted or significantly delayed at multiple locations. It warns that disruptions to the auto industry’s supply chain may just be the beginning of what is to come. Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, which, according to the Department of Transportation alert, handles roughly 30 percent of the annual trade between Canada and the U.S..

“As the protests persist, they will likely produce secondary impacts and have a high probability of further impacts to supply chains across various industries,” the CBP alert warns. “The Freedom Convoys and similar events are likely to continue gaining popularity as long as vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 mitigations efforts are held in place.”

A COVID protest in Ottawa
A COVID protest in Ottawa marked by gridlock and the sound of truck horns reached its 15th day on Friday. (Nick Iwanyshyn/Canadian Press via AP)

CBP and its umbrella agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is working to minimize the disruptions to trade inflicted by the protests at the border.

“DHS’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection has continued to efficiently process inbound traffic at U.S. ports of entry while protecting public safety and national security, despite road closures north of the U.S. border that are related to ongoing protests in Canada,” a DHS spokesperson told Yahoo News.

“To ensure the continued flow of lawful trade and travel, CBP is working with its Canadian counterparts who are routing traffic to additional ports of entry to limit any disruptions and ensure commercial trucks can enter the United States in a timely manner.”

The spokesperson also said that CBP has added extra personnel and opened all available screening lanes and was in close communication with its Canadian counterparts and other government and private entities impacted by the protests at the border.

“DHS and its Canadian counterparts continue working together to identify and combat any potential threats to public safety or national security,” the DHS spokesperson said.

A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators
A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators blocks the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh /Canadian Press via AP)

Initially sparked in response to a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada, the ongoing protests have snowballed, gaining traction and support from prominent Republicans in the U.S., including former President Donald Trump, and sparking calls on social media for similar convoys to protest coronavirus mitigation measures in the U.S.

On Wednesday, Yahoo News reported that the DHS was warning police nationwide of plans for trucker convoy protests being discussed online. The alert said the protests could begin as early as Super Bowl Sunday near the game in Los Angeles and were expected to travel across the country to Washington, D.C., in early March, timed with President Biden’s State of the Union address. Law enforcement sources told Yahoo News there was concern that the trucker convoy could shut down the nation's capital, similar to the shutdowns seen in Canada this week.

A protester against COVID-19 restrictions
A protester against COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa on Thursday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press via AP)

The DOT memo issued Friday points to two main groups that it says “appear to have become the de facto organizers behind the Canada and United States convoys: Canada Freedom Convoy and U.S. People’s Convoy.” However, the DOT notes that “numerous social media profiles have been created in support of the convoy, with some subscribers exceeding 80,000.”

Among the groups that have emerged in recent days is Convoy to Save America, a Tennessee-based organization that describes itself on its website as a “new group formed to peacefully support the official Freedom Convoy 2022 in Ottawa.”

According to a press release dated Feb. 9, Convoy to Save America is planning to send two convoys to the Peace Bridge in Buffalo this weekend, the first of which will leave New York City on Friday, followed by a second convoy leaving Mount Juliet, Tenn., on Saturday.

“We are a grassroots Mama and Papa Bear Convoy. We are not truck drivers. We’re using vans and cars,” Pennie Fay, a spokesperson for Convoy to Save America, wrote in an email to Yahoo News.

Asked how many people the group expects to participate in this weekend’s convoys, Fay wrote, “We do not have a head count. We are heading to Buffalo to peacefully assemble as well as support the Truckers and drop off supplies.”

A local NBC affiliate in Buffalo reported Friday that the Peace Bridge has already been experiencing backups as a result of the ongoing protests that have shut down other ports of entry and resulted in the diversion of truck traffic to western New York.